According to a recent report there's been a drop in the demand for sugar-free sweets in the US and I say hip, hip horray!
If you're a regular reader of this blog you know that I'm not a fan of artificial sweeteners like aspartame (the blue stuff) and sucralose (the yellow stuff) but not all sugar free foods contain them. Sugar free cookies and candy are often made with sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, lactitol, and maltitol. It's an odd term since sugar alcohols aren't really sugars or alcohol, but they're called this because part of their chemical structure resembles sugar, and part looks like alcohol.
These sweet tasting alternatives are manufactured from foods like cornstarch, sugar, birch wood or whey. They get absorbed from the digestive system into the bloodstream more slowly, or not at all. That means they don't raise blood sugar levels as much as white sugar, but I definitely wouldn't call them "free."
Sometimes food manufacturers subtract the grams of sugar alcohol from the total carbohydrate content and refer to the difference as the "net carbs," but according to the American Diabetes Association, about half of the sugar alcohol content does get absorbed into the bloodstream. And the grams that don't get trapped in the digestive tract, where they can cause bloating, cramps, gas and diarrhea.
Many foods made with sugar alcohols are still high in calories. For example, 5 sugar free mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups have a mere 30 calories less than the traditional version but contain more fat and about as many carbs as 2 slices of bread. And 4 Murray sugar free fudge dipped vanilla wafers pack 150 calories with over a third of the maximum amount of saturated fat you should have for the day.
I say skip them. Sugar alcohols are typically man made, found in highly processed, low nutrient foods, and they can wreck some serious havoc with your digestive system.
If you have a sweet tooth and you want to satisfy it naturally and healthfully, check out my previous post Get Your sugar Fix the Natural Way.
P.S. I took this photo of real sugar cane at a Farmer's Market in Hilo, Hawaii.